It was quite a shock to discover that our Mayor, John Taylor, was being tested for coronavirus and is now at home in self isolation. 

He tells Newmarket Today:

“I have been experiencing shortness of breath, nausea and fatigue. As a result, Public Health decided, based on our interview, that I should be tested for COVID-19. I was referred to Southlake Regional Health Centre to be tested. Southlake Regional Health Centre asked me to wait in my car until a negative pressure room was available. After waiting approximately one hour, I was taken directly to that room where I waited for another hour or so. I was tested and sent home. I am currently in self-isolation as directed by Public Health and am awaiting results.”

We hope he recovers completely - and soon. The captain is needed back on the bridge.

The fact that the Mayor had to wait at Southlake for two hours before being tested surprises me. But I guess Southlake, just ike the rest of us, is getting up to speed on this new contagion in our midst.

Our local MPP - and Minister of Health –  Christine Elliott tells us yesterday in her latest newsletter (click link below) that the Government is establishing dedicated assessment centres and that our nearest one for Newmarket-Aurora is Mackenzie Health. 

I see it is not open yet but we are told it will be up and running on Monday evening.

Personally, I feel we are all in safe hands.

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From the Toronto Star: Are we testing enough for COVID19?

Update on 16 March 2020: Taylor gets the all clear.

Will the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, press ahead with a major restructuring of the public health system in Ontario when health professionals see it as a major distraction from the main job – keeping people well? 

York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, Karim Kurji, (photo right) could soon become a household name if the novel coronavirus: COVID-19 becomes a global pandemic and takes off here on our doorstep.

Dr Kurji – like the rest of his colleagues in the GTA - will be in the thick of it. 

Coronavirus could be around for a long time.

I learn today (Monday) that a woman from Newmarket has contracted the coronavirus and we pray she gets better soon. 

The last thing Dr Kurji needs is a huge destabilising reorganisation which expands York Region Public Health up to Muskoka.

Damaging to the residents

On 16 January 2020 Dr Kurji was blunt with members of York Regional Council:

“Unfortunately… the (reorganisation) exercise has resulted in a lot of time being diverted away from our work and being used to try and counter some of the proposals that we know will be damaging to the residents of York Region.”

In the middle of this coronavirus contagion should Doug Ford be asking Dr Kurji and his colleagues to spend time on pointless destabilising reorganisations? 

No practical advantage

York Region’s Health Commissioner, Katherine Chislett, sees 

“no practical advantage”

in the proposed changes in governance and structure. 

I’ve lived through countless reorganisations of the National Health Service in Britain and they’ve always promised more than they delivered. Is it any different here in Ontario? 

York Region’s response to the Government’s 2019 Consultation Paper tells us:

“Following release of the Provincial Budget in April 2019, the Ministry stated the geographic area currently covered by York Region Public Health would be combined with the Simcoe County portion of the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit. 

In June 2019, the Region took a position that our geographic area should remain as is and communicated this to the Ministry. Realigning boundaries to consolidate Simcoe County or any other municipality or geographic area with the public health catchment area of York Region would result in an overly large and cumbersome entity.” 

I agree. 

Province plans cuts in health spending

The Health Minister, Christine Elliott, is also our local MPP for Newmarket-Aurora. And while her newsletter boasts of increased grants to local organisations she is silent on the fact that health spending is planned to be cut with municipalities expected to take on an increased share of the cost. The Region tells us:

“York Region funding is forecasted to increase to 42% ($34.5 million) by 2022 due to the proposed new Provincial funding model which would require large municipalities, such as York Region, to contribute 40% of the cost-share beginning in 2021. An increase to the municipal cost-share for public health is not sustainable without impacting front-line services and/or large property tax increases. 

Municipal governments should not be expected to make up for reductions in provincial funding to deliver provincial programs. While a cost share of up to 70:30 based on actual costs could work for York Region based on historical contributions; a 60:40 cost share is not sustainable.”

Christine Elliott’s health reorganisation is all about saving money at a time when Dr Kurji and his colleagues at York Region Public Health should be focussed laser-like on saving lives.

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York Region's response to Government proposals on paramedics is here. The presentation from Katherine Chislett and Dr Kurji to York Region's Committee of the Whole on 16 January 2020 is here.

Being late for your flight is seriously bad news, especially when you are going on vacation. 

Of course it is not as bad as being late for a wedding or a funeral but it is definitely up there, something you want to avoid.

So I pay AirYork – the airport transportation people - $180.80 to take us to Pearson and bring us back from the airport after a week in Yucatan. 

For weeks I’ve been burnishing my Spanish and boning up on the Mayan civilisation. We planned to visit Chichen Itza in the humid interior.

Instead I am tapping this out in Newmarket where there is snow on the ground.

Worry-free airport transportation

We booked AirYork ages ago, attracted by their pitch to potential customers. They promise travellers a “timely and reliable” service. They boast:

“You can count on us for arriving and getting you to your flight in a timely manner. We know that airline flights are not as enjoyable as they once were, and the last thing you need is the added frustration of having to get on a later flight because you missed the one you planned to be on. We have over 27 years of experience, which is far longer than any of the other Pearson Airport transport companies in the York Region of Ontario.”

We should have been picked up from home at 6.15am to get to the airport by 8.30am when the flight closes. At 7am our driver (let’s call him John Smith) zooms into our driveway. He apologises for being late but the weather was bad and he had to pick up some other people in Sutton, 30km north of us. We learn he was in Sutton at precisely the time when he should have been in Newmarket.

Despite this, I remain confident our driver will get us to Pearson in time. We shall have one and a half hours to get there. But as we run into the morning traffic jams and slow to a snail’s pace I realise we are not going anywhere. The Sutton people are getting concerned too though their flight is after ours.

We arrive at Pearson after the flight has closed. The WestJet desk is surrounded by a bunch of hyper agitated people who are in the same boat. I feel strangely calm – as I often do when things go pear shaped.

Take me to Cancun - whatever it costs!

At the desk a young woman tells me there are no other flights that day. I hear myself rashly requesting two seats on any flight that day to Cancun “whatever the cost”.

She scans the screen and shakes her head. There’s nothing, she says. Nor the following day. But she can get us on a Friday evening flight which gets into Cancun in the early hours of Saturday morning. Then we would face another long road journey to our destination. 

We calculate we would have three days in Mexico, costing us an arm and a leg. 

We decide to cut our loses and call AirYork to take us back home.

Scheduling Problems

Later that day I contact Gary at AirYork who tells me there were “scheduling problems”. He is sorry we missed our flight and says AirYork will pay our re-booking costs to get on a later flight. I tell him it is not quite so simple and I send Gary an itemised list of our expenses - all absolutely watertight with everything receipted and documented.

Gary says some of the items are hard to understand and he wants to go through them

“to find a better tune”.

The next day I send a further email giving an expanded explanation for each part of my claim for reimbursement. I say:

“Please let me know before the weekend if you require anything further from me and when we might expect reimbursement.

“I hope the matter can be settled quickly and in a straightforward way and we can put the nightmare of our lost vacation behind us.”

There’s radio silence. But I’ll give AirYork a few days grace. And then I’m off to the Small Claims Court – the first time ever - to let them sort it all out. 

Even if we get our money back we’ve still lost our vacation.

And how do you compensate for that?

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Background: Early last year the Province embarked on a review of Ontario’s regional municipalities. It turned out to be a damp squib. The Government had second thoughts and abandoned the exercise – no doubt chastened by the outcry over its decision to axe 50% of Toronto’s councillors in the middle of the election campaign.  

On 25 October 2019, the Government confirmed there would be no top-down reorganisation. Instead the regions were asked to review their own composition by 7 December 2020, indicating whether they wished to stick with the status quo or make changes. 

Regions that recently reviewed their composition are not required to repeat the exercise.

But York Regional Council is obliged to carry out this review, whether it wants to or not. If it doesn’t meet the 7 December deadline the Minister can step in and change the composition in any way he wishes.

The Mrakas Factor

Last month Aurora Mayor, Tom Mrakas (photo right) lobbed a hand grenade into the debate by tabling a motion at York Regional Council proposing it get rid of all regional councillors. He calculates this would save $600,000 a year – a drop in the ocean in a $3.3 billion budget. He wants the Council to be run by the Mayors of the Region’s nine constituent lower tier municipalities.

This is an eye-catching proposal, no doubt attractive to those who believe in “small Government” but it won’t fly. 

Mrakas says the Region could get by just fine without regional councillors. They in turn say it’s time to get rid of the Mayors. 

We are in for many months of navel gazing. Do we need more elected members? Or fewer? Or just better ones? And how do our elected members spend their time at the moment? 

I recall many years ago spending an hour one-to-one with Sir Ian Valance, then Chief Executive of the British telecoms giant BT (British Telecom), who back then was paid an absolute fortune. Fascinated by his vast remuneration I asked him to describe how he spent a typical day. I seem to remember a lot of time was spent “thinking”. 

How do our elected members spend their time?

I’d like to know what kind of caseload regional councillors carry. How involved are they in exploring policy options with senior staff? If they have outside appointments which come as a result of their membership of the Regional Council what does that mean in practice? 

They are elected as independents – each with their own agenda. Do they see it as part of their role to lead and shape public opinion? If not, why not?

And what about the Mayors? They fly the flag for their own Councils but do they have the time or the inclination to get involved in the nuts and bolts of policy making at regional level? Newmarket’s former Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, in contrast to his successor John Taylor, was mute in the Council Chamber, making negligible contributions to debate. 

Government by PowerPoint

York Regional Council could be run quite easily by its professional staff. The traffic lights would still work. Of course, the elected members set Council policy but, in most cases, they do so only after they have been nudged in the right direction by staff. York Regional Council operates by PowerPoint presentations and seminars steered discretely by professional staff who know how the system works.

The Regional Council is, in large measure, a closed organisation whose members owe their primary loyalty to the institution itself rather than the Region’s voters. 

The Regional Chair, Wayne Emmerson, is indirectly elected by the Regional Council and not by the voters at large. Given that York Region has a population bigger than PEI, Newfoundland, Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan and is closing on Manitoba this seems kinda weird. 

Leadership you can count on

At the Newmarket Council meeting on 10 February 2020 Regional Councillor Tom Vegh gives his “Regional Report” bringing his colleagues up-to-date on what’s been happening at the Region.

Tom manages to meander through a long and convoluted explanation of the review on Regional Council composition without mentioning Tom Mrakas or his motion once. This is an astonishing omission. 

It falls to Newmarket Mayor, John Taylor, to fill in the blanks left by Tom’s report. Taylor wants the Region to look again at the election of the Regional Chair. (Doug Ford cancelled the planned direct election of York Regional Chair at the same time he axed Toronto City Council.)

Taylor believes there is a “decent likelihood” that the Province would agree to the region-wide election of the Regional Chair if that is what the Region wants

Christina Bisanz who pushed hard for the direct election of the Regional Chair last time it came up for debate is unlikely to drop the issue now.

And what about Tom Mrakas’ revolutionary proposal to have the whole show run by the Mayors? 

Is it doomed?

Is the Pope a Catholic?

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The motion below was agreed by York Region's Committee of the Whole on 6 February 2020. It recommends adoption of the following recommendationsas amended, in the report dated January 27, 2020 from the Chief Administrative Officer:

  • Council approve the timelines to complete the legislated review of Council composition as detailed in Attachment 1.
  • Regional Council consider the following scenarios at its February 27 meeting:
    • Option 1 – Remove one member representing City of Markham
    • Option 2 – Remove three members representing Town of Georgina, City of Markham and Town of Newmarket 
    • Option 3 – Add one member representing City of Vaughan
    • Option 4 – Add five members representing Town of Aurora, Town of East Gwillimbury, Township of King, City of Vaughan and Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville
  • Staff provide additional information related to the Regional Chair position: direct election, requiring the Chair to also be an elected member of a local Council and status quo.
  • The Regional Clerk circulate this report to the local municipalities.

(Tom Mrakas motion will be considered alongside the options shown above.)

Update on 24 February 2020 from YRC's Chief Administration Officer, Bruce McGregor, on the direct election of the Regional Chair.

Update on 27 February 2020. The Council rejects the Mrakas proposal and agrees to a further Council seat for the City of Vaughan. The Council will look again at the direct election of the Regional Chair in October 2020.





Does the President of the United States sport a fake tan

This photograph, taken on the South Lawn of the White House, went viral on 7 February 2020. It shows the familiar orange face but this time ringed with white. 

The image upset the great man:

 “More Fake News. This was photoshopped, obviously, but the wind was strong and the hair looks good? Anything to demean!”

It doesn’t bother me in the slightest if the President wants to wear make-up. But it worries me a great deal if he doesn’t know the significance of Pearl Harbor.

Washington Post journalists Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig claim in their new book “A Very Stable Genius” that:

“Trump had heard the phrase ‘Pearl Harbor’ and appeared to understand that he was visiting the scene of a historic battle, but he did not seem to know much else."

In 2017 Trump visited Pearl Harbor on a private tour of the USS Arizona Memorial which commemorates the lives lost in the Japanese attack on the US Pacific naval base. We are told Trump turned to his then Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, and asked:

“Hey, John, what’s this all about? What’s this a tour of?” 

Dunkirk. Something happened here, didn't it?

It is bit like a British Prime Minister visiting Dunkirk and asking his Private Secretary to explain the significance of what happened there.

It gets me thinking… Does Trump have any understanding of the Korean War and how the country came to be divided? When he sups with Kim Jung Un doesn’t he realise he needs a very long spoon? Is the love affair still hot or is it cooling?

We know Trump doesn’t read the briefing papers prepared for him but his jaw-dropping ignorance of basic facts about the history of his own country is deeply troubling.

We must all pray the Trump Presidency will soon be over. 

Uniquely unpopular

It is often forgotten that Trump is uniquely unpopular. More people disapprove of Trump than approve. It’s been like that all through his tempestuous Presidency. But, despite this, there is a sophisticated disinformation campaign to get him re-elected.

He received almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton (who had her own issues) but won the flawed Electoral College by 304 to 227 votes.

George W. Bush won the Presidency despite Al Gore winning a majority of the popular vote.

Trump could be saved by the Electoral College again.

A New York Times editorial last August said it was time to fix the Electoral College or scrap it:

“What really disregards the will of the people is the winner-take-all rule currently used by every state but Maine and Nebraska. Giving all electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote erases the votes of citizens in the political minority — say, the 4.5 million people who voted for Donald Trump in California, or the 3.9 millionwho voted for Hillary Clinton in Texas. Nationwide, this was the fate of 55 million people in 2016, or 42 percent of the country’s electorate…”

Each State alone decides how it chooses those who will vote in the Electoral College. 

“Or they could award them to the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, regardless of the state outcome. That’s the elegant approach of the National Popular Vote interstate compact, which achieves a popular vote not by abolishing the College but by using it as the framers designed it — as a state-based institution. So far 15 states and the District of Columbia, with 196 electoral votes among them, have joined the compact, promising to award their electors to the national vote-winner. The compact goes into effect once it is joined by states representing (a total of) 270 electoral votes — the bare majority needed to become president — thus guaranteeing the White House to the candidate who won the most votes.” 

If Trump loses the popular vote by millions – just like last time – but wins in the Electoral College his election will lack legitimacy but he won’t see it that way. 

A win is a win.

And losers are just losers.

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